Teach English in WujiAng Zhen - Nanjing Shi

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Even if the words have been borrowed from English, German or any other language, they have been adapted for the Japanese pronunciation, i.e. every syllable is now followed by a vowel. For example, the English “Christmas present” turns to “kurisumasu purezento” in Japanese. Another interesting example is the word “glass.” The Japanese have adapted two pronunciations for this single word– both with different meanings. If pronounced as “gurasu”, it means a “drinking vessel”, as in “a glass of water”; however, another possible pronunciation is “garasu”, which means “glass material”, as in “a glass ceiling”. This can be explained by the different origins of the word “glass”: “gurasu” was borrowed from English, while “garasu” was borrow from Dutch, thus the difference in meanings. The list can last forever, but what it means for the English teacher is that every single word will have to be drilled over and over again to try and get rid of the additional vowels as much as possible. Instead of the two separate sounds– “r” and “l” – in English, there is only one (1) sound, which is essentially something in between of “r” and “l” in Japanese (with the tongue situated behind the upper teeth in the “l” position but doing a slight roll resembling “r”). This is another common pronunciation problem; and students tend to confuse not only the pronunciation but also the spelling. The Japanese youtuber, Jun Yoshizuki, has made an entire video on the topic to show that despite his high level of English, he still confuses “r” and “l” sometimes. The “l” from “glass” turns to “r” and a Japanese person would be very likely to not just say but even write “grass” instead of “glass” (especially if left without the context). Some of the words, such as “hello”, for example, have been adapted to “haroh”, but it can be confused with the English “halo” as the pronunciation is identical. Not only the “r/l” problem remains, but in Japanese “ha” is more common than “he”, therefore words like “Helloween” and even “happy” are pronounced as “haroh-ween” and “happee” respectively. Very similarly to “r/l”, another confusion comes from the absence of “f” and “v” in Japanese. In the hiragana and katakana alphabets (they are identical pronunciation-wise, but the characters look different), a sound similar to “f” is situated in the “ha/he/hu/he/ho” row. The “hu” is usually written down as “fu” but as it is placed in the “H” row, the Japanese often pronounce it as “hu”. Confusing “food” and “hood” is not rare (both written as “hoodoh” in Japanese). The sound “v” does not exist in Japanese at all. Consequently, hearing a Japanese student say “baiorin” instead of “violin” is nothing out of ordinary. To summarise, the most common pronunciation mistakes/ problems are related to the absence of particular English sounds in the Japanese language: “r” sounds like “l” and vice versa, thus “lorry” becoming “rorry” and “yellow” turning “yerrow” is not just common, it is almost a rule that the English teacher must help their students to break. Secondly, in addition to the syllable + vowel rule, the words that have both “b/v” and “r/l” in them can show a unique case of the not-so-hard English word “volleyball” becoming an unrecognisable “borreybooru”. Japanese is a very beautiful language, however it creates a great number of problems for the Japanese speakers to learn English as these languages have absolutely nothing in common. Surely, the majority of languages in the world have their own unique sounds which do not exist in English and vice versa, nonetheless the Japanese really raised the bar by adapting all the loanwords (especially from English) for their language by making the pronunciation of those words easier for the locals but sometimes absolutely unrecognisable to the English speakers. Not only that, but the Japanese have made it confusing for themselves as sometimes they can barely perceive the right pronunciation of the English words that have received a new pronunciation in Japanese (an example would be the Japanese word “zemi”, which is the shortened English “seminar” but will not be understood as such by the native Japanese speaker). The best advice for an English teacher when working with Japanese students, despite their age, is to offer as many drilling activities as possible, in addition to choral repetition. Every single English word should be repeated by the students after the teacher over and over again in order to decrease the “Japanese-ness” of their pronunciation. Of course, getting rid of the accent entirely is uncalled for, but trying to subside the syllable + vowel rule (to turn “purezento” back into “present”) as much as possible and try to teach the students to see the difference between various sounds that may or may not exist in Japanese is crucial. Therefore, the classes are most likely to be focused on pronunciation/ speaking at least at first, but, of course, neglecting other skills, such as listening, reading and writing is unnecessary. A balanced lesson plan should be produced, but coming up with drilling activities and, perhaps, tongue twisters focusing on the problematic sounds might prove beneficial in the long run. Additionally, incorporating listening comprehension tasks and gap-filling activities, focusing on the challenging words with the same problematic sounds could help the students of all levels to feel the difference. Seeing the spelling of the words while hearing the native English speaker pronounce them followed by the students repeating after the native speaker/ teacher performed all together can prove useful as the students will be able to build strong associative connections visually and auditorily. Overall, as the students are always encouraged to talk a lot, especially during the Activate phase of the lesson, it should remain this way; nevertheless the teacher should pay very close attention to the students’ pronunciation and learn how to correct them carefully not to make the students lose confidence and become anxious instead of just being aware of this special trait that they have due to the peculiarities of the language.